Directed by Fulvio Sestito. Starring Ryan Carnes, Jordan Hinson, Peter Stormare, Dee Wallace, Claude Duhamel, Travis Walton. USA 2018 Certificate: 15 82 minutes.
Released by Altitude Film Entertainment on DVD and Digital HD on 29th April 2019.
Ray Santilli’s 17 minute monochrome footage of the alleged Roswell alien autopsy is just as influential in the annals of found footage genre films as the verité cruelty of Ruggero Deodato’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or the unseen shaki-cam terrors of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Aired by the Fox Network back in 1995 at the height of THE X FILES’ popularity, Santilli’s film was unmasked as a “reconstruction” a decade later but the 21st century has brought a slew of alien abduction movies applying the evergreen “found footage” format. THE FOURTH KIND (2009) was a relatively high-profile theatrical outing, but the sub-genre typically lives in home video territory via more modest variations on the theme including Oren Peli’s AREA 51 (2015), THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (2015), the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin ALIEN ABDUCTION (2014) and a notably icky segment of horror portmanteau V/H/S (2012).
All of the above were foreshadowed by serious minded attempts at translating the much-mocked phenomenon of “real” extra terrestrial encounters like the Whitley Streiber adaptation COMMUNION (1990) and, memorably, FIRE IN THE SKY (1993), a big budget studio picture best known for its harrowing portrayal of alien experimentation on an abducted human. The subject of that film’s “based on true events” protagonist, Travis Walton, makes a knowing cameo in Fulvio Sestito’s BEYOND THE SKY. Whereas most of the aforementioned movies and the early, highly influential seasons of THE X FILES (which itself experimented with found footage, including a spoof of the infamous Roswell “alien autopsy”) delayed showing their cards for as long as possible in order to sustain the spooky ambiguity, BEYOND THE SKY offers full-blown CGI aliens and spaceships in its very first scene.
Sestito’s film pivots around an inverted Fox Mulder character in the shape of young, determined documentarian Ryan Carnes. He is making a film to debunk the alien abduction phenomenon but also has a very Mulder-like connection to the subject: his abusive Dad (Peter Stormare) became convinced up until his death that his Mom was abducted by aliens when Carnes was still a kid. His whole life has been spent searching for The Truth and, as an adult, he sets out with a small crew to New Mexico, attending a Roswell convention and interview “abductees” on-camera, hearing the now-bog-standard stories of being strapped to tables and probed. He dismisses these familiar accounts as false memory syndrome, while befriending cute alleged abductee Jordan Hinson, who is counting down the days to her 28th birthday, having been “taken” every seven years since turning seven.
Director Sestito has fun with an assortment of tropes, beats and frights from the peak years of THE X FILES: bright lights, electrical failure, missing time, alien implants, twitchy locals (plus Dee Wallace as a spunky eccentric), conspiracies and a member of the Anasazi tribe with a close relationship to The Old Ones. The layers of reality include an archival VHS interview of Stormare’s experiences, incorporating his son’s video of the “abduction”. The final act yields an emotional resolution for the hero’s backstory and a multitude of plot twists that contrives a narrative reason for two separate sequences of the hero being strapped to a table and subjected to unpleasantries.
This kind of subject matter has always played best when delivered with a less-is-more approach, as evidenced by the poignant and genuinely creepy UFO scenes in the earliest episodes of THE X FILES before the unambiguous onscreen aliens and labyrinthine conspiracy torpedoed the ambiguity. This movie, although pacey, never boring and slickly produced on a low budget, blows its load at the very start and then struggles to find any truly fresh directions to take its hero’s familiar – though admittedly compelling – quest.